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6 Ways Marketers at Midsize Companies Can Lead CX Digitization

6 Ways Marketers at Midsize Companies Can Lead CX Digitization

Sarah Steimer

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​The back end led the way in middle market digitization. Now marketers can help their teams improve customer-facing digital offerings.

Purchase decisions large and small are happening digitally. Potential homeowners often start their searches on websites like Redfin. Those in the market for a teapot may comparison shop on Amazon. With so much of the customer journey happening on the web, it stands to reason that digitizing a company’s customer-facing services is the marketing team’s responsibility. Not always so, according to a report from the National Center for the Middle Market, “Digitizing the Customer Experience: Are We There Yet?,” which explores how digitization has affected the customer experience.

“When we asked which executives have the most responsibility for the digitization of the customer experience, we found that twice as many people said the CIO is in charge than said the CMO is in charge,” reports Thomas Stewart, executive director for the National Center for the Middle Market. “When you ask them who’s in charge of customer experience, they might say CMO or head of sales, but if you ask them about the digitization of the customer experience, that’s still more likely to be in the IT department than the marketing department.”

NCMM previously studied the state of digitization in midsize companies in 2015, finding firms had made more progress digitizing back-office functions than customer-facing activities. The new report found that 34% of middle market companies say customer experience is a critical part of corporate strategy, and these organizations are the most likely to invest heavily in related digitization tools. Digitally strategic firms—defined in the study as those with a clear digital strategy that directs their investment in the digital consumer experience—also report 10% year-over-year revenue growth and 4.6% year-over-year employment growth, compared with 4.7% revenue growth and 2.7% employment growth at nondigital firms.

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One of the greatest challenges to digitizing is managing an omnichannel customer experience. Retail, for instance, may involve a number of digital and analog activities: A customer purchases a shirt online, but then returns it in-store and perhaps has questions for customer service via chatbot and over the phone.

“Marketing teams, classically, work at the top of the funnel and at some point hand their leads off to sales,” Stewart says. “In a customer experience world, that’s no longer true. The implication of that old funnel model is that marketing’s job is to brand, and the customer experience has nothing to do with the brand. But in fact, the brand is engaged all the way down to the time when you call the complaint line. The marketing people have to stretch into areas where they’re not as fluent.”

Teams at midsize companies are learning to speak the language of these new areas. Sean Campbell, CEO at Cascade Insights, a market research firm working with B-to-B technology companies, says marketers are leading the charge in digitization, especially as they become increasingly focused on uncovering the buyer’s journey through analytics.

“Marketing owns more of the customer touch points these days and more of the funnel, so it’s the logical place to start,” Campbell says.

More companies are investing in digital customer experience, but the most popular tools may not be the most effective. For example, the NCMM report shows 74% of middle market companies are investing in a social media presence, but only 54% of those who invested rank this as extremely or very effective. “Customer/partner collaboration tools, Internet of Things (IoT) and smart devices and system automation with partners appear to offer the most promising returns,” the report authors say.

Stewart offers six actions marketers working in the middle market should employ in response to the findings.

1. Bring the Marketing Team From the Top of the Funnel Deep in the Organization

“Even places like Disney recognized that every front-line employee carries the brand,” Stewart says. “Marketing needs to be everywhere the brand is named.” The brand is engaged all the way through the customer journey. The marketing team needs to engage with the information technology team to inform the implementation of customer-facing platforms.

2. Make Marketers the Guardians of the Company Archetype

Every organization has a brand cop: the person who keeps the company in line with its stated mission, look and function. As middle market companies pursue more customer-facing digitization, this role becomes even more important. It’s up to the marketing team to patrol the boundaries and brand guidelines.

3. Provide Tangible Evidence of the Service Experience

The digitization of customer experience is a service. A customer cannot kick the tires of a new app, so marketers must consider how to provide tangible evidence that the digital offering is worth using. The marketing team needs to clearly articulate why their app, website or other digital product is worth the space on customers’ devices.

4. Marketers Must Understand Customer Interactions and How to Intervene

Stewart calls these the make-or-break moments. It’s crucial for a marketing team to understand these moments from the customer experience point of view. There’s a big difference between casually calling an auto insurance company to add a new car to a policy and calling from the side of the road after an accident. The marketing team can map the ways customers access digital products and improve the accessibility of those offerings with optimized site structure and design. Customers will not appreciate searching and clicking through multiple links to get the answers they urgently need.

5. Coordinate Touch Points

“Across the customer journey, how do these handoffs work?” Stewart asks. “Do you still feel like you’re in the same business or talking to the same company? Is there a consistent look and feel as the customer moves along?” Continuity is key. A company’s app should look and feel consistent with its website. Similarly, customers should receive continuity in customer service in person, over the phone and online. Digitization allows companies to track interaction between the brand and individual customers across platforms.

6. Increase the Value of Customers

Think of customers as capital. Stewart says understanding customers as assets, not just net promoter scores or average lifetime value, can play a critical role in understanding customer experience. Customers have preferences, wants and needs that can be viewed as assets, especially those who are loyal and have downloaded an app or signed in to a website. These preferences can be mobilized to improve offerings.

Sarah Steimer is a writer, editor, podcast producer, and yoga teacher living in Chicago. She has written for Marketing News, Chicago magazine, Culture magazine, the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, and other outlets.